UK Giving 2012: why I think we are right…but hope we are wrong

It’s one of the truisms of social research that there are no ‘new’ findings. And that if you do find something new, or surprising, the answer is almost certainly that it’s wrong. So, the news that we’re estimating a 15% fall in the total value of donations – 20% if we add a dash of inflation – has made me and a number of colleagues reach for the fine-tooth comb in order to be sure – really sure – that we haven’t made any mistakes. So, why do I think we are right in what we are reporting?

  1. It’s properly done. The survey uses a random probability sample, selected from a population of all British adults. It’s not a quota sample (used in most surveys these days). The survey uses face to face interviews. It’s not one of those cheap and cheerful web surveys. And it’s over three different fieldwork periods over the year – not a one off. Our numbers have confidence intervals. And this is undertaken by Britain’s Office for National Statistics. And you can find – and replicate – the methodology.
  2. We haven’t changed the methodology. I’ve been involved in this work for more years than I care to remember and on any number of occasions we have been accused of being wrong. Most frequently the suggestions have been that the survey over-estimates how much people give. My argument is that if we are wrong – we are consistently wrong – the implication being that thetrend is correct.
  3. The economic environment in 2011/12 was poor: and any number of measures of consumer confidence were dipping. The particularly important statistic here is Net National Income per Head (NNI) – considered to be the best guide to real living standards. This held up in the early stages of the recession but has continued to drop as a result of the squeeze on family budgets from rising prices. NNI per head fell by 13.2% between the first three months of 2008 – when the economy peaked – and the second quarter of 2012. Over the same period, GDP per head fell by 7%.). It’s also worth noting that studies such as Donations Foresight and The State of Donation have used econometric analysis to demonstrate a link between economic indicators such as house prices and unemployment and giving to charity. I’ll leave you to guess the correlation and direction of causation.


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